Sandy Keeter is a Professor in the Information Technology Department at Seminole State College in Florida
As I begin to ponder offering all our classes online this fall, I must consider my students and my faculty when making all decisions. Although I have taught online for many years and am continually updating my courses, many of our students and faculty have not previously learned or taught in this mode.
To accommodate those unfamiliar with online learning and help ease them into it, our college has come up with a new mode called Distance Remote, which basically has scheduled, synchronous learning sessions each week. Instead of meeting in the classroom during that time, instructors will be meeting virtually. To make this transition as smooth and efficient as possible, we need to address each course in phases: Planning, Building, Delivering.
Planning for an Online Course
We must think about how to develop our courses by reviewing learning outcomes, course content, and our students’ online experience. First and foremost, we must embrace the new mode of instruction and approach it positively. With good content, solid course design and thoughtful instruction, our students will get a quality learning experience.
Break down your syllabus and focus on what is important (less is more); identify gaps in content or resources and add where appropriate. Dig into your spring classes to see what worked well and remove or modify content that did not help your students. Gather and organize resources and map out a clear, consistent learning path with intention and purpose. Develop a schedule that is achievable and consider students who may have limited online access.
Faculty should already be familiar with course content so you can focus on tech training (LMS, publisher tools, etc.) this summer for those unfamiliar with some of the added online tools you plan to embed in the course. Conduct live virtual training sessions with faculty so they can see what their students will experience.
Building an Online Course
Create and assemble relevant materials and activities that align with the course learning outcomes—and keep accessibility in mind. Give yourself plenty of time to develop new material and test available resources as you start building your class. Take advantage of available teaching and technology resources since many are vetted and will save you time in the long run. Pick meaningful, intentional assignments to reach every type of learner and avoid busy work.
Organize content and assignments in a clear, easy-to-navigate learning path, broken up by module, with overviews for each. Add weekly or module-level discussions for engagement and accountability. Upload notes and PowerPoints into your LMS where students can easily get to them. Record/add helpful videos and plan for synchronous lectures/meetings. Schedule weekly announcements/reminders to keep students and faculty on track.
If available, use your college’s LMS template to maintain a consistent look and feel with other classes. Consider building a course master (via LMS or publisher) and copy it out for all instructors teaching the same class to save time and ensure consistency across course sections. This will also come in handy if instructors or students need to shift sections at any time for any reason.
Delivering an Online Course
So here we are, ready for delivery. As mentioned earlier, you will want to embrace this new teaching format, be positive and be present for your students. A welcome video introducing yourself and setting clear expectations is a great way to connect with your students on day one. Review your students’ introductory discussions (or other introductory exercise) to get to know them more personally. Getting students into your course, with the necessary materials, and started on the right foot will help them be more successful. Online presence is important all semester, but especially in the first few weeks of class when getting your students situated, comfortable and ready to learn.
Communicate often so your students know you are there for them; be inclusive in your messaging by considering the many personalities and learning styles; check often for understanding. By automating the release of assignments and announcements, you will save time, avoid overwhelming students with too much at once and be able to focus on other needs as they arise. Review course grades and analytics weekly to see how your students are doing. Touch base with those who have low engagement levels or low course percentages; feedback and kudos go a long way to encourage students.
Schedule additional virtual office hours or help sessions as needed and consider creating teams for student support or group projects. The intention is not to make more work for your students or to make online learning more difficult, but to offer other avenues of support and methods of teaching to reach every type of learner. Be excited and passionate about what you teach, maintain high expectations and integrity, establish relationships and make connections. By instilling a sense of personal responsibility in your students, you will grow a community of online learners.
Looking for more online teaching tips? Download the Cengage Guide to Teaching Online.